At times it feels like people forget that Vernon Hargreaves III was a true freshman last season. The young defensive back was able to make a flawless transition from playing high school ball to starting in Florida’s secondary in no time. Hargreaves intercepted a pass in each of his first two games and is widely considered one of the top corners in all of college football.
While Hargreaves made it look easy, this rapid evolution doesn’t happen often. In fact, it’s almost unfair to expect it from other players just because somebody has done it in the past. There’s a reason redshirts exist in college football.
But with a young secondary, Florida is in a position to try their luck once again with a cornerback fresh out of high school. His name is Jalen Tabor, and there’s a pretty good chance he is starting on the opposite side of Hargreaves once the season begins. He’s another highly recruited player and in large part thanks to Hargreaves, the expectations are through the roof.
Will Muschamp and the rest of the coaching staff have praised the young corners throughout camp. Still, making strides in shorts and a helmet in April is different than being asked to cover Amari Cooper for 60 minutes.
Can lightning really strike twice?
Absolutely. In fact, I’m not sure how it doesn’t work out for the Gators. Unlike Hargreaves, Tabor has elite size for the position at 6’1”, terrific length and is as physical as they come. Hargreaves relies a lot more on his explosiveness, quick hips and top-notch close-in speed to make plays. Basically, Florida will have the best of both worlds with the two on the field.
The thing that really sticks out to be when watching Tabor is his physicality. He loves to jam guys at the line of scrimmage, knock them off their routes and really rough them up.
Here you see Tabor forcing a receiver towards the sideline with his size and a little bit of legal hand action. Tabor knows the sideline is an extra defender and will require the quarterback to make a perfect throw to complete the touchdown. Of course, the pass was incomplete, as the receiver had little chance with this coverage.
One of the underrated parts of Tabor’s game are his instincts, as he’s able to diagnose plays quickly and has a solid natural feel for the game.
Before the quarterback has even secured the snap, Tabor already knows that this is a pass towards the slot receiver. He’s already breaking on the ball and planning to make the tackle, pretty much ignoring his assignment.
He blew up the play so quickly, the receiver had absolutely no chance of blocking him and it resulted in a loss on the play. These quick decisions and ability to read the offense prove that’s he’s already ahead of the curve and can be a confident starter for the Gators this season.
So, is Tabor the next Hargreaves?
Those are certainly big shoes to fill, especially considering he led the Gators with three interceptions and 11 pass deflections. Keep in mind that was with other talented defensive backs such as Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs on the roster. However, Tabor is an extremely polished corner and has a truckload of upside.
Let's just say the Gators will have the best cornerback tandem in college football if those unreal expectations are met this season.
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With the first round of the NFL draft in the books, college football has now officially said goodbye to some of its best talents of last year.
From the CFB perspective, this summer is dedicated to finding the proper replacements for those first-round picks.
While the quarterback battle at Texas A&M to see who will replace Johnny Manziel rages on, other teams have already replaced their superstars.
With that, let's check out the replacements for every first-round pick of Thursday's NFL draft.
Another week has come and gone at USC, and while a handful of Trojans are looking to make their departure from Troy by way of the 2014 NFL Draft, the next generation is on deck to replace them. The recruiting trail is starting to heat up for the Trojans, so it's going to be an exciting summer as more and more athletes buy into what Steve Sarkisian is selling.
As noted in last week's recruiting roundup, it's still a bit too early to get excited about any commitments, as some will, without a doubt, waiver before next February.
With that said, here's a quick recap of the latest recruiting news at USC, followed by some other tidbits of what's to come in the fall.
USC welcomed Roy Hemsley to the ranks on Tuesday, when the 3-star offensive tackle committed to the Trojans over their rivals, UCLA. He's the fifth commit in the Class of 2015 (Which, for the first time in three seasons, can be the full 25) and the second-straight OL commit. Last week, 5-star OT Chuma Edoga gave his pledge to the Trojans as well.
The 6'6", 280-pound offensive tackle is a big boy and he's still growing. Should he stay aligned with the cardinal and gold, he will be an important asset for the Trojans come next year.
After committing, he spoke glowingly about why he chose the Trojans:
This week, USC offered another standout JUCO athlete—3-star defensive end Ulric Jones. The 6'6.5", 283-pound defensive end originally committed to Mississippi State out of high school but ultimately went a different route. Now a standout talent at Butler Community College in Kansas, Jones is rated the No. 9 DE in his state and No. 44 nationally.
Aside from USC, Jones also picked up offers from California and Texas A&M this week.
As previously noted, the Trojans are also pursuing JUCO standout Marquavius Lewis, a 4-star DE also attending a junior college in Kansas.
The Trojans are looking to continue shoring up defensive-line talent this recruiting cycle, and another top prospect has USC high on his list.
4-star defensive tackle Jacob Daniel is reportedly down to two schools, USC and Oregon. The Clovis, Calif. native is ranked the No. 8 prospect at his position and No. 6 overall in California, so a commitment from this 6'4", 310-pound tackle would be a huge early get for the Trojans. Per Rivals.com, a decision from Daniel is expected in the near future.
Daniel has an interesting history with Sarkisian, as he was committed to the Huskies while Sark was still the coach at Washington. That being the case, it's possible that USC has a competitive advantage in terms of earning his verbal pledge this time around.
3-star defensive end Jason Scrempos (Milpitas, Calif) has created a list of his top colleges as of May, and USC made the cut:
While the 6'6", 240-pound prospect is high on the Trojans, he is still waiting on an offer from USC at this time. Other Pac-12 schools like Cal, Arizona, Washington and Washington State have extended him offers, however.
The jury is still out on Scrempos, but Sark and his staff are expressing interest in offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton. The 3-star OT out of Newport (Wash.) is also expected to be pursued by UCLA, in addition to currently holding offers from Washington and Oregon.
One More Thing
While not a recruiting update, there's been a development regarding blue-chip signee Adoree' Jackson. The heralded incoming freshman has been assigned his jersey number for Fall 2014:
Jackson discussed his childhood admiration of former Trojan Reggie Bush, and he told Lindsey Thiry of Scout.com that he wouldn't exactly mind getting to be the next No. 5. Even though the number has been unceremoniously brought out of retirement, USC does not seem to have any intention of distributing it just yet.
So while he won't get to be the next great No. 5, Jackson will get to carry on the tradition of being a star at No. 2. On either side of the ball, a Trojan donning No. 2 has excelled.
In the past decade, three Trojans—Steve Smith and Robert Woods on offense and Taylor Mays on defense—have earned All-American status while wearing No. 2 on their backs. Smith and Woods developed reputations for themselves as electrifying wideouts that put up crazy numbers, and Mays was a fearsome safety in the Trojan secondary who earned notoriety for bone-crushing hits.
This is a fitting number for Jackson, as he will likely be spending time on both sides of the ball next season.
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Word quickly spread through the University of Alabama football complex that day, and linebacker C.J. Mosley couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
It was last fall, and part of Nick Saban’s routine during training camp is to always have a daily speaker, some of whom the players will never forget.
They’ve included Dewey Bozella, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, talking about never giving up; New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi on handling expectations and success; former NBA player Chris Herren on how he overcome his drug-abuse problems; former player and director of football operations for the NFL Gene Washington about life after a career in sports and Michael Franzese, a former New York mobster with the Colombo crime family.
But when Mosley, who had come back for his senior season and to get his degree, found out that Ray Lewis was in the building, he got excited.
“People started whispering around like, 'I heard Ray Lewis is going to be here. I heard Ray Lewis is going to be here,’” Mosley said to Alabama reporters at the time. “For me he’s one of my role models and one of my idols growing up as a linebacker and as a football player. Just to have him here was very exciting.”
It's only fitting that Mosley will be going to where Lewis was a seven-time All-Pro, and where he established himself as a future Pro Football Hall of Fame selection.
Thursday night, the Baltimore Ravens made him the 17th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, one of two Crimson Tide first-round selections. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix went 21st to Green Bay, prompting Packers general manager Ted Thompson to quip, "We've had good success with the Crimson Tide kid we took last year," about running back Eddie Lacy, the 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
They were Saban’s 15th and 16th first-round selections with the Crimson Tide, the most for a coach in program history, and 20th and 21st overall, tying him with Mack Brown and Lou Holtz for the fifth most ever. Although Alabama remained tied with Southern California (1993-97) for the longest consecutive streak of top-10 selections during the common draft era (since 1967, with five), it became the first program to have multiple first-round picks for five straight years.
The player who was selected in Mosley's slot last year, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones by Pittsburgh, signed a four-year, $8.705 million contract.
“He’s smart, very smart, relentless player, fast,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said during a press conference in Baltimore. “Always involved."
Although Baltimore had bigger needs at offensive tackle and free safety, the team’s long-standing policy is to usually take the best player available in the first round. DeCosta revealed that the Ravens had Mosley rated 10th overall, but he was one of three players they were targeting as their turn approached.
When Dallas was on the clock at No. 16, Mosley’s agent told him that Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin was probably the only player remaining who might make the Ravens think twice about him. After the Cowboys ignored the temptation to take Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and opted for Martin, there was no doubt.
Baltimore fielded some last-minute trade offers, but General Manager Ozzie Newsome said it would have taken a “bonanza” of picks to change their minds. Granted, the Crimson Tide legend had previously selected six Alabama players since 1997, including trading down to the second round and still getting outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw in 2012, yet none had been in the first round.
“I know we got better as a football team because of the way C.J. plays, but I know we got better as an organization because of the person that he is,” Newsome said about the Butkus Award winner as the nation’s best linebacker who was prouder about being named a Crimson Tide captain.
“You’re our kind of player,” owner Stephen Bisciotti told Mosley over the phone while other people in the Ravens’ war room started high-fiving.
“He’s the one guy you can’t find anyone to say anything negative,” added scouting director Joe Hortiz—an Auburn graduate.
While the versatile Mosley can play either inside or outside linebacker, he’ll be groomed to be the eventual heart of the defense and make all the play calls just like Lewis. But that’s where the similarities end.
"I'm not trying to be the next 52,” Mosley made sure to tell the Ravens reporters on a conference call.
During his 17-year NFL career, Lewis made 227 starts, was twice the Defensive Player of the Year, and he was named the most valuable player after Baltimore beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
About the only thing they have in common is that they’re the only two interior linebackers the Ravens have ever selected in the first round. That’s it.
“I wish I was as vocal as him,” Mosley said about Lewis' address to the Crimson Tide last fall, which was about doing your job and being accountable.
“I don't really think there are too many linebackers who can meet with his emotional side.”
Mosley also disclosed something that has stuck with him about Lewis' attention to detail.
“Usually when you wake up the first thing you do is look at your phone,” Mosley described. “He said when he wakes up he just takes a deep breath and clears his mind.
“Who even thinks about that when they wake up in the morning? Just the start of his day, is his thought process that fast?”
There's no better place to work on that than in Baltimore.
Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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Months before Chris Davis returned the "Kick Six" to win the 2013 Iron Bowl, Auburn recorded a victory off the field against in-state rival Alabama.
Last August, four weeks prior to the kickoff of Gus Malzahn's first season as Auburn head coach, a shift in Alabama's football rivalry began to take shape thanks to one tweet:
Racean "Roc" Thomas, a 5-star running back and one of the state's top offensive recruits, made a verbal commitment to play for Auburn instead of Alabama.
At this point in 2013, the Tigers were coming off a 3-9 season in which they failed to record a single SEC win.
The Crimson Tide were the two-time defending national champions.
But Thomas stayed firm in his early decision to play at Auburn, a choice that he told the Anniston Star's Joe Medley received ample criticism from those around him:
Everybody doubted me. Everybody was, ‘Why are you choosing Auburn right now? They had a terrible season, a terrible staff. But you know, it’s good, because I can just rub it in everybody’s face now. They went all the way to the championship.
As his future college team went on a historic turnaround from conference cellar-dwellers to champions behind a top-ranked rushing attack, Thomas also racked up monster numbers on the ground that earned him comparisons to some of the greatest running backs in Auburn history.
“He’s almost like Bo Jackson how he could finish a run,” Thomas' high school coach Ryan Herring said. “You thought for sure he’d be caught, but he’d end up in front of someone who had a great angle on him."
The speedy and powerful Thomas shot up the recruiting rankings in his senior season with the Oxford Yellow Jackets as he ran for 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Rated the No. 5 running back in the country in 247Sports' final Composite Rankings, Thomas later became the second consecutive Auburn signee to win the state's Mr. Football award, joining 2012 winner Jeremy Johnson on the Plains.
"When he had the football, he was the ultimate game-breaker," Herring said. "At any time he can break a run and either win the game or keep the game close and give you a chance to win it."
Throughout the 2013 season, Herring said Thomas was "a hard commitment" to Auburn, and he "told people that up-front."
But rival Alabama, who was considered the leader for Thomas during his junior season, would not let the 5-star running back go to the Plains without a fight.
The last time Alabama tried to flip a 5-star running back from the Tigers to the Tide in the offseason it was successful.
In December 2011, after months of staying firm with his Auburn commitment, T.J. Yeldon shocked the state by announcing he would enroll at Alabama the following month.
Although Kiffin's visit brought up bad memories for Auburn fans, "Roc" stayed solid with his decision to play for the Tigers and sent his letter of intent on national signing day.
"[Thomas] was very loyal to us," Malzahn said. "He could have gone anywhere, but he chose to not go anywhere and stay with us. We really feel like he has the ability to come in immediately and make a huge impact."
While the high-caliber Thomas may make that immediate impact on the field in an offense looking to replace Heisman finalist Tre Mason, he has already made an impact for his new school off the field.
His commitment in August set the tone for a 2014 recruiting cycle in which the balance of power shifted in the state of Alabama.
Alabama finished the season with another No. 1 recruiting class, but the Crimson Tide did not have a dominant grasp of the state's blue-chip players like they had in years past:
Although Alabama has had recent success in flipping players from Auburn such as Yeldon and former Auburn High School star Reuben Foster, the Tigers were the ones doing the flipping in the class of 2014.
Stephen Roberts, a 4-star cornerback from nearby Opelika, changed his commitment from Alabama to Auburn last November, days before the legendary 2013 Iron Bowl.
The number of former Auburn commitments who later signed with Alabama in the class of 2014? Zero.
"One of the big things I really appreciate also is the loyalty of our commitments," Malzahn said. "In this day and time, that’s very rare. We had guys that were committed to us even before the season that could have taken other trips, and they chose to stay very loyal to help us recruit."
After in-state 5-stars Thomas and linebacker Tre Williams stayed true to the Tigers and signed in the 2014 class, the state of Alabama's 2015 class looks to be an even battleground between the two SEC powerhouses in Auburn and Tuscaloosa.
Alabama is said to be leading in the race for No. 1 recruit Daron Payne, but Auburn is still in the hunt. Auburn is reportedly the leader for No. 5 recruit Tyler Carr, who spoke highly of the authenticity of the Tigers staff in recruiting.
"At Auburn, they are not all flash or show," Carr told AL.com's John Talty. "The faces they put on at these junior days, you feel like it's really like that. It's not made up; it's not just to lure kids in. They aren't just trying to trick kids into coming."
While Alabama may still lead the country in securing top-ranked classes, the power is shifting thanks to blue-chip talent like Thomas committing their future to Malzahn and his Auburn staff.
The Crimson Tide no longer have the complete control they once had on the conference—or their own backyard.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
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Nebraska football fans watching the spring game last month saw all kinds of promise on both sides of the ball. But they also had to avert their eyes to the grease fire that was Nebraska’s place-kicker performance.
Sure, there wasn’t a lot to see, only six extra points. Grant Schumacher was 2-2 on those extra points, and Spencer Lindsay was 1-1. But with all due respect to Schumacher and Lindsay, those guys are not going to be seeing the field next year absent an emergency.
Mauro Bondi, the scholarship kicker, was 1-3. As in 33 percent. On extra points. You know, the ones from the 2-yard line that are so automatic the NFL is considering abandoning them altogether because they are so routine.
But that was just the spring game, you might say in response, one practice out of 15. We shouldn’t overreact to any one performance, even on a stage like that.
A fair point, certainly, one that has been made frequently about quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s less-than-stellar spring game performance. But there is more data than just the spring game to make one question the status of Nebraska’s placekicking game.
Bondi’s performance as a place-kicker when the games count is far from reassuring. Bondi has made his only field-goal attempt and is 8-9 in his career for extra points. Or, put another way, Bondi is 88.9 percent on extra points, which would have been good for No. 122 nationally in that category (courtesy of cfbstats.com).
Indeed, last year Nebraska had to bring on Pat Smith, a transfer from Western Illinois, because the coaching staff had such little faith in Bondi’s ability to put the ball through the uprights. Smith beat Bondi out for the place-kicking duties and had a respectable 2013 campaign, going 12-13 on field goals, including the game-winner against Penn State.
Smith is gone, though, leaving only Bondi, Schumacher and Lindsay on the roster. Nebraska does have a true freshman kicker in Drew Brown arriving in the 2014 class. Brown, the younger brother of former Nebraska kicker Kris Brown, looks to be in line to at least compete for the starting job as place-kicker this season.
While it is good that Nebraska at least has another option, asking a true freshman to come in and be the place-kicker on a team that hopes to contend for a conference title is a big ask indeed. Nebraska has road games this year against Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin. All of those games look to be tough, and any one of them could be decided by a long field goal in difficult conditions with a hostile crowd roaring. Nebraska looks to be pinning its hopes for winning a tight game in those conditions on a kid who will be less than a year away from his high school prom.
And it’s not just those dramatic walk-off kicks that are affected. Having a reliable kicker who will put points on the board is such an advantage, both tactically and psychologically.
Tactically, knowing your kicker is likely to convert shortens the scoring field, making an offense need to take fewer risks—and thus be less likely to commit turnovers. Psychologically, converting on scoring opportunities relieves pressure on a defense, allowing them to play knowing they don’t have to pitch a shutout for Nebraska to be successful. Also, more points are better than fewer because, duh.
Let’s be clear on one thing. Bondi, like Adi Kunalic before him, is a top-flight kickoff specialist, and the value that brings to a team should not be ignored. But all the evidence before us suggests Bondi is not the answer as a reliable place-kicker and that Nebraska will have to hope a true freshman can arrive on campus this fall and fill those shoes.
A smart and particularly handsome analyst referred to Nebraska as “Kicker U” for its history of producing great place-kickers. Nebraska seems to be in a lull right now in kicker production, and that lull could cost NU dearly in 2014.
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